Almost from the second the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement was signed, certain league watchers have cast their gaze toward the next round of labor talks – expected to commence in the months leading up to September of 2012 – in an effort to predict what future gains and give-backs potentially are in the cards for hockey’s greatest players.
Although there are some worrisome rumors regarding what league brass may be angling for 1,000 days or so from now – non-guaranteed contracts chief among them – the next CBA also represents a chance to remedy some of the on- and off-ice issues that ail the game.
For some people – alright, for the person typing this – the league would be well advised to do away with certain regulations and practices that do nothing but constrict fan appreciation of the product.
For instance, the No-Trade Clause clearly has become the Ebola virus of the NHL. Just from what we’ve seen from Mr. D. Heatley and the Ottawa Senators this season, there’s a very good argument to be made for a full-blown, across-the-board rescinding of what should be known as pro sports’ anti-Santa clause – a.k.a. the gift that never gives, but only takes away a team’s (and, as Heatley now well knows, a player’s) ability to be as flexible as organizational and/or personal situations dictate.
Even if you accept the argument the NTC is a fairly-bargained contractual perk, why couldn’t the league and NHL Players’ Association come up with a future setup in which any player can name three teams – 10 percent of the league – he doesn’t want to be dealt to under any circumstances and the 26 franchises he would be prepared to accept a trade to.
Beyond that, no NHLer – not Mats Sundin, not Heatley, not anybody – should have the power to burrow his bones into one city’s mud and demand to stay with a franchise that can’t afford (either from a financial perspective or a strategic on-ice sense) to keep him on the roster.
That’s one change that desperately needs implementing. But there’s also a longstanding, ridiculous NHL practice also due for the dumpster. It is called “In Keeping With Club Policy” and it is used when that statement precedes the words “salary information will not be disclosed” anytime a player is signed to a new contract.
Yes, despite the crucial role the salary cap plays in fan understanding of how NHL teams are built, many franchises still refuse to release salary information regarding their most valuable employees.
However, did you know some rogue teams throw caution to the wind and release said salary info to the public anyway? Utterly despicable, I know. Obviously, some team policies are not going to be impressed with that sort of behavior.
The solution here, of course, is to require teams to make that information public for every player signing. The NHLPA has been prepared to accept salary disclosure for years, but the league continues to stonewall on the issue. As soon as the NHL reveals a reasonable philosophy behind that stubborn stance, I’ll quit lambasting them for it.
Another often-discussed potential change focuses on the CBA rule forbidding any team from paying part of the salary of a player that team has traded away.
However, though I agree with Leafs GM Brian Burke when he argues that trades would be easier to complete if teams could pick up a portion of a traded player’s paycheck, this is one case where I also can agree with the league’s reticence to change the rule. There’s already ample evidence the cap system doesn’t come close to leveling the playing field – and any adjustment permitting large-market teams to eat salary in a way ‘budget’ teams cannot would only exacerbate that inequality.
Regardless of your opinions on labor issues, you’d best believe the backroom lobbying over future CBA changes has been underway for a long time – and will ratchet up exponentially in the next three years.
In other words, if this kind of talk exhausts you now, you’re going to need to invest in a comfortable pillow, because you’ll be bombarded with it until Gary Bettman and Paul Kelly hammer out a new document before the end of the Mayan Calendar.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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